Opinion: Love him or not, Josh Bailey’s clutch gene continues to show for Islanders

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Washington Capitals
New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey (12) celebrates with Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the third period in game one of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re ever to stumble down the rabbit hole that is Islanders Twitter — or their social-media following in general — one of the most controversial figures amongst the fan base, the one who sparks the most debate, the man who some want to run out of town is: Josh Bailey.

Yes, the longest-tenured Islander has half of its fan base imploring that he’s an elite winger while the other half would pay for his airfare out of town.

Quite an enigmatic perch in the court of public opinion to be seated on despite spending 12 years with the organization. Unfortunately, that comes with the territory of being a professional athlete.

The fact of the matter is that only four Islanders in franchise history have played more games than Bailey. And only eight of them have more assists.

However, some have been waiting for jaw-dropping offensive numbers from a player who has carved a niche on Long Island as a role-playing playmaker.

His numbers don’t jump off the page at you. He’s averaged 39.6 points per season in his NHL career and has never scored more than 18 goals in a season. That’s not exactly the kind of production expected from someone selected ninth overall in the 2008 draft.

Yet he’s been one of the Islanders’ most clutch players while they’re on some of their biggest stages.

On Wednesday afternoon, his third-period shorthanded goal proved to be the game-winner for the Islanders in a 4-2 triumph in Game 1 of the First Round over the Washington Capitals.

While he quietly posted four points in four games in the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers last week, Bailey answered the call in a momentous way Wednesday, one-timing Brock Nelson’s perfect pass from the goal line past the outstretched pad of Braden Holtby with 6:52 gone in the third. It gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead after they trailed 2-0 late in the second period.

That’s two-straight years he’s provided the Islanders’ game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals after stuffing home Mathew Barzal’s backhander that wrang off the post in overtime last postseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It’s not like he’ll tell you much about it, though. Bailey has the reserved persona of a humble figurehead in the Islanders’ locker room. One that calls for respect and offers leadership, especially in those big moments.

That’s what is appreciated most by Islanders head coach Barry Trotz.

“I think when the game gets quicker and more important, he has a quiet compete level that I’ve grown to appreciate,” Trotz said. “I think with Josh, he’s a quiet, very competitive, very intelligent hockey player that when the moment is big, he seems to be very relaxed and very poised.”

With Game 1 in their back pocket, it’s just the kind of values the Islanders must adopt as they prepare for the impending pushback from the Capitals come Game 2 on Friday night (8 p.m. ET).